Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Consumerism at its Best

It’s no wonder that people in Taiwan love to shop. I’m not sure which came first- the love of shopping or the ingenious incentives to spend. But as far back as I can remember, people from Taiwan have always loved to shop and it’s only recently that I’ve begun to understand the shopping culture of Taiwan.

Practically every type of store (from cosmetic to electronics) has its own free membership card which entitles customers to: 1) membership prices, i.e. the lower of two prices stamped on all products, 2) automatic discounts of 10% off all purchases at the store, and 3) points which are accumulated and can be applied toward future purchases. Who doesn’t love a bargain or sale?

Department stores have teamed up with major banks to issue VISA and Master card credit cards. So each time the credit card is used, the points accumulated can be used towards future purchases at the department store. If the credit card is used at the same department store that issued the card, the customer earns double points on his or her purchase.

Department stores also seem to have daily, if not weekly giveaways. For a minimum amount spent that day/week, customers can collect a free gift. The free gifts are often quite useful and practical such as canvas tote bags, Tupperware, kitchenware (mugs, bowls, dishes). But how many mismatched mugs and tote bags does one really need?

Well, who doesn’t like a free gift? It’s the excitement and novelty of it- in our frenzy to collect our gift we forget that we already have three mini salad spinners at home or that you don’t like coffee, you don’t drink coffee, that no one in your family drinks coffee- but the coffee grinder was free! Getting something for nothing is always fun. While shoppers converge on the top floor of the department store, lining up to present their receipts and collect their gifts, there’s anticipation, chattering, buzzing of activity. There are drawings for extravagant prizes like a diamond ring, a new car… There’s a sense of entitlement and satisfaction, an affirmation that your money was more than well spent as you go home with you little “extras” and wonder what next week’s giveaway will be.

It seems almost pointless for stores to have free membership cards, I wonder what they are doing giving out all of these free membership cards- it’s not very difficult to obtain one, they are usually given right on the spot with minimum requirements to join- it’s a marketer’s dream, but as far as I can see, I haven’t been bombarded by any direct mail marketing. I wonder just how much of a markup there is already on items.

I’ve discovered the best “free” membership cards are the ones issued by cosmetics companies- if you make a minimum purchase. Women’s cosmetics are luxury items, which are perceived as necessities, they are notoriously expensive- no expense is spared for a 5 oz. bottle of the latest youth serum. Cosmetics never go on sale, and without a doubt they are the single highest grossing type of product per square foot of floor space in a department store. Ever wonder why women’s cosmetics are located on the ground floor of department stores? Well, now you know why. I’m really getting sucked into the buying culture of Taiwan- can you tell? Now that I’ve “graduated” from using drugstore cosmetics, I think I’m hooked on luxury cosmetics, especially the ones from Paris. I’ve tried cosmetics from- Chanel, Lancome, Guerlerain, Clarins, Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder, Shisedo…

In fact, I think I’ll be heading over to the Hanshin Department store later on to use my Hanshin VISA card to purchase some luxury cosmetics in order to accumulate double Hanshin points, not to mention points towards future cosmetics purchases, oh and just for making this purchase- I get to pick up this week’s free gift at Hanshin.

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